04/30/2008 05:41 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's The War, Stupid

We learned today of three more U.S. troops killed in Iraq, making April's total 47, the most lethal month for Americans since last September. We are also watching as U.S. troops become more and more involved in military operations within Sadr City, the Shiite stronghold in eastern Baghdad.

Did I just say we are watching? Silly me. What is abundantly clear is that we are NOT watching, and by we I mean we the people, we the government, we the media, we the candidates. These four "we's" have achieved a condition characteristic of societies in profound trouble: willful avoidance of facts so evident and indisputable that a "normal" society would call them unavoidable.

And so, a radical proposition: let's take just a short pause in obsessing about our current national obsessions. Among these are an economy in free-fall, jobs, oil and gasoline prices, health care, national and personal debt -- those issues which rightfully worry all Americans watching their futures grow dimmer by the day. But more issues: presidential politics, tracking polls, Reverend Wright, slips of the tongue, who-said-what-about-whom one minute ago (which we had better discuss without delay, since a moment from now, someone else will say something else about what someone else said). And finally, a category of fixations which -- let's face it -- we love best, and to which I offer merely a topical label -- Hannah Montana does Vanity Fair -- but which covers a multitude of self-replenishing distractions.

And let's not dwell on April's 47 dead or five years' 4,000 dead, those who will never worry about gas prices, presidential candidates, or semi-salacious photos in glossy magazines. As the expression goes: dead is dead. Instead, let's examine how Iraq is dimming our future in a way that none of these other issues can.

This is how: the United States has relinquished all but a tactical role in determining its own fate. We have a arrived at a point - indeed, we have long since arrived at the point -- where choices made by Moktada al Sadr, Nouri al Maliki, tribal chieftains in Anbar and Diyala, street hoodlums in Basra, gangsters in Baghdad, Shiite believers, Sunni insurgents, Kurdish separatists, and al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and beyond, are exponentially more important than any decisions emanating from the Green Zone, the Pentagon, or the White House. We spill blood and expend treasure according to the whims of others. We are now what another beknighted president, in another war, called a pitiful, helpless giant.

Am I suggesting that we should be thinking of Iraq to the exclusion of all else? Far from it. Here's what I am saying: the war in Iraq is both a calamity in and of itself, and also a signpost of our national consciousness. We have achieved a condition of near-total passivity, in which our military and diplomatic initiatives do not, and cannot, alter anything but the most insignificant and fleeting of events. We have reached a state of denial by which we have lost the will, and perhaps the ability, to grasp our true condition. And we have dispensed with the sine qua non of democracy and western civilization: an honest and unwavering embrace of objective reality, along with an examination of the choices necessary to improve it.

Gas prices? Jobs? Health care? How about candor, clarity of purpose, and the moral courage to look unblinkingly at what we have become?